Sunday, December 10, 2017

Man-Cub

Film: The Jungle Book (2016)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Normally, I’m done with the new entries for the 1001 Movies list long before 10 days into December, but I’ve still got a couple to go (well, one more after today). There’s a reason for this. I, Daniel Blake isn’t available anywhere that I’ve found and I really wasn’t that interested in watching a new reworking of The Jungle Book. However, I do want them done by the end of the year, and The Jungle Book is currently streaming, so it made sense to knock it out. It was better than I thought it would be, although at this point that doesn’t say much; remember, I wasn’t looking forward to watching it.

Chances are you know the basic story. Mowgli (Neel Sethi) lives in an Indian jungle, literally raised by wolves. His wolf mother is named Raksha (voiced by Lupita Nyong’o) and the pack is led by Akela (Giancarlo Esposito). Mowgli does his best to become the best wolf he can be, but, since he’s human, he’s not always that great at it. Still, he’s accepted in the wolf pack and mentored by Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), a panther.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Crunchy Granola

Film: 20th Century Women
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’m worried about Annette Bening. I’ve never been her biggest cheerleader, but with good material (The Grifters, American Beauty), she can be tremendous on screen. Of all the movies she has made since 2010, I’ve now seen three, and she plays a variation of the same type of character in each—the Bohemian mom-type who really wants to understand her kids and help them fully realize themselves. Okay, in The Kids Are All Right she’s less that, but the movie has that vibe to it. She’s very much that in Ruby Sparks, a film I hated despite being told how great it is. And she is the full realization of that in 20th Century Women. This is a personality type that I have come to know (through my wife) as “crunchy granola.”

20th Century Women is at least a vaguely autobiographical of writer/director Mike Mills (not the bass player from R.E.M.). The film takes place in Santa Barbara in 1979 and concerns Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), who is 15 and lives with Dorothea (Annette Bening), his divorced mother. Dorothea, in addition to her normal job, runs a boarding house. Two of the residents, mechanic and part-time carpenter William (Billy Crudup) and photographer/cancer survivor Abbie (Greta Gerwig) are going to be important to the story as well. The final piece of the puzzle is Julie (Elle Fanning), who is Jamie’s friend and often sleeps with him in his room, but refuses to have sex with him since she believes this will destroy their friendship.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Silver Linings Sketchbook

Film: David and Lisa
Format: Turner Classic Movies on big ol’ television.

There’s a particular type of film that takes place at least in part in the confines of a psychiatrist’s office. I think people tend to be fascinated by mental health issues, probably because of a desire to understand something that seems so strange. Movies in this odd little genre run the gamut from serious looks at mental health for the time (The Snake Pit) to prurient tales (Shock Corridor). They often deal with terrible, deep-seated issues (Equus, Ordinary People, Good Will Hunting) and sometimes romance (I’m a Cyborg, but That’s Okay, Silver Linings Playbook). David and Lisa attempts to be many of these things. It wants to be serious and it wants to be a romance. What it isn’t, though, is a real look at the problems of our characters.

Here’s what I mean by that. David Clemens (Keir Dullea) is brought to a youth-oriented psychiatric hospital more or less disguised as a school. David has an intense fear of being touched. He is also obsessed with time, and has a recurring dream in which he executes people with the hands of an enormous clock. Do we learn why any of this is true? We do not. Lisa Brandt (Janet Margolin) gets called a schizophrenic in the movie, but she seems to have a split personality. There is Lisa who speaks only in childish rhymes and there is Muriel, who doesn’t speak and communicates only by drawing. Do we learn why? Of course not.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Wednesday Horror: American Psycho

Film: American Psycho
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

Back in my podcasting days, Nick Jobe and I watched American Psycho. I don’t remember what the theme of that episode was, and I don’t remember the movie I picked to pair with it, but this was definitely Nick’s choice. That’s not a comment on Nick, just a recognition that Nick had seen it and I hadn’t. The truth is that I think American Psycho is close to an underknown classic, a film that should be better known and more frequently seen. This is sardonic film, a sort of winking nod at the excesses of the Reagan-fueled 1980s and the immoral, greed-soaked culture that it spawned.

One of the genius moves of American Psycho is that we never really know what its anti-hero Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) actually does for a living. He works for a firm called Pierce & Pierce and his business cards say “Vice President,” but we never really see him doing anything in terms of actually earning a living. In truth, he is our American psycho, someone who is completely without emotion, a true psychopath. We learn initially of his morning routine designed to help him keep up the façade of his daily life—his sort-of fiancée Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon), his work life, his insane jealousy over other people’s business cards. But, buried deep inside him, there is a growing disgust with the world and a bloodlust that demands being sated.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Tortured Past

Film: Music Box
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’ve mentioned in the past about my position on Holocaust drama. I fully agree that it’s a story that needs to be told over and over. But there is only so much real horror I can stand before something like numbness sets in. It’s not a lack of outrage on my part, but sort of an overwhelming grayness where the horror is still there and I’ve lost the ability to react to it in some way. It’s why I pace myself on such films. Too many right in a row, and I emotionally freeze up to protect myself. Paced out, I can still feel the full horror, revulsion, and outrage that is necessary. And then we get Music Box, and my outrage comes from somewhere entirely different.

Anne Talbot (Jessica Lange) is a defense attorney in Chicago. She has just learned that her Hungarian immigrant father, Michael J. Laszlo (Armin Mueller-Stahl) may have his U.S. citizenship revoked for lying on his forms. The state contends that he lied because he a war criminal who actively participated in the slaughter of Roma people and Jews in Hungary. In fact, the state contends that he is actually a man known as Mishka, a commander of the Arrow Cross death squad. Michael claims that the accusations are false and have come from Hungarian communists who are attempting to discredit him for protests he was a part of. For her part, Anne believes in the truth of her father.